In the twenty-ninth chapter of The Amber Spyglass, the battle against the Kingdom of Heaven begins. YESSSSSSSS. Intrigued? Then it is time for Mark to read The Amber Spyglass.
CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE: THE BATTLE ON THE PLAIN
You know, there’s really only one thing I truly wanted from the battle between Lord Asriel’s fortress and the Clouded Mountain: it needed to be weird. This is a battle for all existence, comprising innumerable parallel universes, and goddamn it, IT HAS TO BE FUCKING WEIRD.
Oh, Pullman. This is certainly one of the more bizarre battles I’ve ever read. (Not seen, though. I recently watched FLCL. I think that tops things out for weird battle scenes.) For once, I actually enjoy how confusing and overwhelming this all is, and I think it lends itself nicely to converting just how chaotic the battle on the plain is. Initially, though, I thought that Pullman might be delaying the start of the battle, despite the chapter title, because it was clear this was all from the point of view of Lyra (and a little bit of Will). We meet back up with them as they head back into the world of the dead to head towards Lord Asriel. Their lack of dæmons is starting to take a toll on them, and I think that’s one of the reasons that using the alethiometer is so difficult for Lyra. To be fair, of course, they have been traveling for days on end and they just OPENED A DOOR IN THE WORLD OF THE DEAD and they exist somewhere in between life and death and I will stop listing all the ridiculous things that have happened recently. When was the last time Will or Lyra had like…a full night of sleep? Or a nap? Damn, now I want a nap just thinking about this.
Lyra finally does read the alethiometer, and I came to learn that they were headed straight for Lord Asriel’s world, and I suddenly felt excited to see how Pullman would introduce them to the battle, especially since Will or Lyra have no clue what to expect. I liked the idea of using them to act almost as our own eyes in what was to come.
I also enjoyed Lee’s parting bit of motivation that he gives Lyra:
“Lyra, gal, it won’t be long now. When you see that old bear, you tell him Lee went out fighting. And when the battle’s over, there’ll be all the time in the world to drift along the wind and find the atoms that used to be Hester, and my mother in the sagelands, and my sweethearts–all my sweethearts…Lyra, child, you rest when this is done, you hear? Life is good, and death is over…”
oh my god, Lee Scoresby, my heart is weeping. Not literally, that would be really gross. But this line has a completely different meaning to me: this book is almost over. And people are going to die, and even if there is no more “death” anymore, it’s not going to make me feel any better about losing any of the remaining characters.
Sorry, I’ll stop being sad. How about we celebrate Lyra naming No-Name as Gracious Wings? Again, I can’t ignore that Lyra and Will helped fundamentally change the way all universes function, and they did so out of love and respect. It only stands to reason that Lyra would treat no-name with the same outlook, giving her a name and hugging her.
I don’t know that we’ll ever see No-Name again. Hell, everything from this moment on has such a ring of finality to it that I believe it’s entirely possible we won’t even see Lee Scoresby or John Parry again either. I got a hint of that when Will looks upon the ghost of his father one last time before they leave the world of the dead, and he forgets he is not supposed to. OH GOD IF HE HAD BROKEN THE SUBTLE KNIFE AGAIN…. Well, let’s not think of those things.
Will concentrates, cuts into Lord Asriel’s world, and it’s pretty much hell in a matter of a second or two:
The first thing they sensed was noise. The light that struck in was dazzling, and they had to cover their eyes, ghosts and living alike, so they could see nothing for several seconds; but the pounding, the explosions, the rattle of gunfire, the shouts and screams were all instantly clear, and horribly frightening.
It’s here. They’re here. The battle against the Authority has begun. And oh my god what is going on. I love the way that Pullman drifts from one site to another, as if we are a camera panning across the landscape of the fight, focusing briefly on one attack vehicle, then on to “flying machines” and gyropters, then “columns of riflemen” and “troops equipped with flamethrowers, with poison-spraying cannons.” It’s pure disorder and disarray, violent and nasty, and it’s FUCKING WEIRD. The first sign that something is not right is when the Kingdom forces retreat, even though they are outnumbering Lord Asriel’s.
That’s when the Specters arrive, and they begin to torment Asriel’s troops. Of course, I was more interested in seeing how they would react to ghosts, since John Parry believed it was possible they could fight these creatures. On top of that, Will and Lyra didn’t have dæmons. How can the Specters attack them, if they even can?
The ghosts clambered out of the earth, pale forms paler still in the midday light. They had nothing to fear anymore, and they threw themselves against the invisible Specters, grappling and wrestling and tearing at things Will and Lyra couldn’t see at all.
The riflemen and the other living allies were bemused: they could make nothing of this ghostly, spectral combat.
SEE? THIS IS WHAT I WANTED. Oh god, how amazing would this look on film? At times, Pullman is such a visual writer, and he crafts images that so strongly resonate in my brain. This image (along with quite a few others in this chapter) is powerfully strange. Ghosts of the dead fighting Specters, all of which people of different ages see to different degrees. So the allies’ view is entirely different than Will and Lyra’s. THAT IS AMAZING TO ME.
But there’s no time for fascinated interest, because this battle is not just something to observe and feel neat about. Can I say that shit is real? I say it a lot, and it’s been occurring rather frequently lately, but we are rapidly approaching a monumental peak for The Amber Spyglass. Surrounded by the Kingdom’s forces, Will and Lyra soon begin to feel the affects of the Specters. Perhaps because they’re not fully dead, they still can feel something when they go after them. At least that’s what I thought at first, but Pullman corrects that notion quickly:
She knew what it was at once, though she’d never felt it before. And it told her two things: first, that she must have grown up enough now to become vulnerable to the Specters, and secondly, that Pan must be somewhere close by.
OH SHIT! Oh god, she’s growing up? I mean, it makes sense. Look at all that Lyra has gone through in the last year! Oh god, why do I feel like a younger sister of mine is going to the first day of high school? DON’T FORGET YOUR SWEATER, MAKE LOTS OF FRIENDS. Ok, I’ll skip the cuteness now because fucking Specters. I feel even worse about the situation because Lyra is screaming over the din of battle for Pantalaimon, who we know is somewhere nearby, but what if she doesn’t find him? What if Metatron gets to Pan first? How can Will recognize his own dæmon, since he’s never seen it before?
Then some mysterious wind settles over the plain, bringing dark thunderheads upon the battlefield, lightning streaking across the sky, and cracks of thunder unlike anything Will and Lyra have ever heard. And flying straight into this storm?
WITCHES. Ruta Skadi’s clan, and Reina Miti’s, too. OH GOD WHERE IS SERAFINA. SHE HAS BEEN ABSENT SINCE THE BEGINNING OF THE BOOK. I really hope she is still alive. I was comforted by the fact that the vast majority of witches were on Lord Asriel’s side, and then in awe of their attack on the angels. It was clear to me that someone in the Clouded Mountain had brought the storm with them, and it was confirmed as a technique to drown out the witch fires, though that proved to be an exercise in futility. And look, I really love the idea that these feminine creatures who are reviled throughout Christian history and popular mythology were given this heroic, powerful role in the war against the Authority. The witches in Lyra’s world are not the same as what we were taught, yes, but the symbolism is not lost on me.
I was also aware of the unique, personal agony that all four of the characters who’d come from the world of the dead were experiencing. They all cried out for their dæmons, whatever form they might take, and the Gallivespians were eager to have any acknowledgement from their kindred who are flying above them. It’s such a brief, painful moment to read about because of the horror these characters have seen, and especially so for the Gallivespians, who are nearing their last moments of their lifespan anyway.
And I can only hope that it’s piloted by someone from Asriel’s forces, but this hectic chapter ends when an intention craft appears above the group of them before flying away.
But they had no time to wonder about it, because another head-wrenching throb of nausea told Lyra that Pan was in danger again, and then Will felt it, too, and they stumbled blindly through the puddles and the mud and the chaos of wounded men and fighting ghosts, helpless, terrified, and sick.
Good god. WHAT THE FUCK.